Sunday, September 30, 2012
The night the first CHEERS aired
Join me for a look at what happened that night.
The ratings the next morning were disappointing. They would stay bad for a year. But none of that mattered on September 30, 1982. The show was actually going to be ON THE AIR. The brilliant script by the Charles Brothers was written the year before. Casting took months. The pilot was shot in early spring. The small writing staff of the Charles Brothers and Levine & Isaacs began breaking stories and preparing scripts in late May. The show went into production the beginning of August.
By the time we premiered we had already shot six or seven episodes. To help familiarize the studio audience with the show, they were shown an abridged version of the pilot. Between editing and those audience screenings I must’ve seen the CHEERS pilot fifty times.
But this was different. It was finally going to be shown to the world. I remember being so excited in the summer when a promo would air and for a few fleeting seconds – there was the bar! On TV! It’s how I felt when they were shooting an episode of THE FBI in my hometown when I was a teenager and the back fin of my car was in a shot!
We all walked through the restaurant to a backroom where six or seven large tables were set up. There were four or five large TV’s strategically placed. Everyone dressed up. Jackets and ties and dresses. If you were going to bump into the President of the United States at the bar you wanted to look nice. CHEERS, in general, was a dressy show. We always wore jackets and ties on the stage on filming nights.
We all arrived around 6:00 for cocktails. I didn’t see Reagan but I did see Carol Lynley. I had to drink for both me and my wife because she was eight months pregnant with our son, Matt (who was the first CHEERS baby born during the run of the show and coincidentally turns thirty next month).
The mood was high. The reviews were in and were mostly positive. A few pans but basically praise. Hopefully they would bring us some viewers. Certainly the print ad NBC took out wouldn’t. A full-page of HA HA HA HA HA HA. That was their idea of conveying comedy tonight.
At 6:30 everybody checked their watch. We were on in the east coast. Even though we couldn’t see it ourselves, it was cool knowing others could. I think a couple of people called relatives back east just to make sure it was on. Can you believe? We couldn’t text. After 7:00 my wife phoned her parents in Brooklyn. Her dad said, “Tell her to stick with the bartender.”
There was no assigned seating but the actors always gravitate towards the actors and the writers to the writers. I recall the great David Lloyd sitting at our table. David wrote some of the finest CHEERS scripts and was our one-night-a-week punch up guy. Imagine Noel Coward after a couple of pops at your table. I’m sure we laughed more than the actors.
Dinner was served. Chicken pies. Not sure why but Chasen’s and chicken pies became the traditional first night party for seasons to come.
I suspect the experience of seeing your show on the air for the first time is ruined today by the meatball logos in the corner, the flashy banners and animated promos that completely obliterate any mood or scene -- not that the networks give a shit.
We all laughed at the jokes, more out of appreciation for the performances. By this time even my wife (who had gone to the filmings) could recite the script line by line.
When the show ended (to more enthusiastic applause) there was ten minutes of everyone congratulating everyone else and then the toasts began. No CHEERS event was ever complete without at least twenty toasts. Fortunately, they were all brief and very funny. And Les Charles always had the best ones. God, I wish I had written them down. I would be stealing them to this day.
At 11:00 we all headed home. Tonight we were part of the best show on television. Tomorrow we’d be part of the lowest rated show on the lowest rated network.
I am so proud and honored to be associated with CHEERS. I’ve been extremely lucky to have been a part of several great iconic shows, and I am often asked which was my favorite? My answer is CHEERS. Something about the concept, the people involved, where I was in my life – but David and I wrote 40 episodes of CHEERS over a nine year span and I never got tired of writing that show. The characters always felt fresh, the stories were always inventive and fun, and as long as we didn’t have to write another damn Norm entrance, it was an absolute pleasure.
And here’s the best part. Sometimes you look back at a chapter of your life and acknowledge it was a golden period but didn’t realize it at the time. With CHEERS I knew, from day one, that this was special and I was incredibly fortunate to be along for the ride.
Later in the week I’ll offer my reaction to the GQ article about CHEERS that recently came out. And check back tomorrow for something very different and hopefully very interesting.